Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

28 July 2017

Going The Appian Way And Becoming Native

I ended yesterday's post by asking, rhetorically, "How lost was I today?"

Well, today I fooled a few people into thinking I wasn't lost at all.  I wasn't trying to do any such thing; it just happened.

You see, I began by riding past the Colosseum and through a portal in a huge stone wall that once formed part of the gate around the city.  At one time, most cities were so fortified and the entrances in them were called "portas" ("portes" in French).  Many of those places still retain those names, and there is usually a piazza (or place or the equivalent) where the door or gate used to be.  And a road leading to that porte might parallel--or might in fact be--a road that led to the gate or door.

Anyway, after passing through the Porta San Sebastiano, I turned onto another road I followed for maybe half a kilometer to a road that had more traffic than I wanted to deal with.  So I made a U-turn and, near the Porta, took a right, which took me onto a road with a stone wall on one side and trees on the other.  I didn't see a sign for it but it was, or became, the Via Appia Antica.  You probably have heard of it:  The Old Appian Road, or The Appian Way. 

Although it's narrow and doesn't have a shoulder for most of its route, it's actually safe for cycling, mainly because the drivers are accustomed to seeing us (as well as pedestrians and runners).  If traffic approaching from the opposite direction doesn't leave a driver on your side of the road with enough room to pass you, he or she will wait.  At least, they did for me.

Along Appia are some of the catacombs.  I stopped at the one of St. Callistus which, the guide averred, is "the most important" because the very first Popes were interred there until they were exhumed and moved to what would become the Vatican.  Photography isn't allowed in any of the catacombs, but I think the images of those layers of tombs as well as the living spaces and even chapels that were carved into the ground will stay with me.  

As our guide mentioned, the catacombs along Appia were outside Rome's city walls because, at the time they were built, Christianity still wasn't allowed in Rome.  After seeing the dome of the Pantheon yesterday, I was intrigued by, among other things, the skylights that were built into the catacombs.  They were needed for ventilation and light, but I realized they--particularly the ones atop the chapels--served another purpose:  They directed the worshipers' vision upward, i.e., toward heaven.  When I understood that, I realized that much of what one sees inside a cathedral serves the same purpose, and I couldn't help but to wonder whether cathedrals were thus influenced by chapels in the catacombs.

After that interesting tour, led by a nice young lady, I rode further along Appia to some other road I couldn't identify, which led me into some other areas with those charming terra cotta and sun-colored houses surrounded by fields or woods.  I just kept on following the roads I was on simply because I was enjoying the ride.  Even after I made a couple of "wrong" turns and found myself in one of those suburban industrial zones one finds just outside European cities, I wasn't worried.  

Eventually, I saw signs pointing in the direction of "Roma" and, a little later "Centro" and, still later, "Colosseum".  So of corse I followed them and found myself wending along some old streets not much wider than most of the cars in this country.  I passed the intersection of the Four Fountains and stopped to drink water and eat yellow plums in the Piazza Santa Susanna, where a four-century-old church named for her occupies the former site of the Baths of Diocletan.  

Well, I was there for maybe thirty seconds when an Asian couple from California asked how to get to the Quirinal--the place with the great viewing spot I discovered yesterday.  I pointed and told them, "Just keep going, up this hill, about half a kilometer."

No sooner had I finished that sentence when three young dark-skinned women approached me.  I overheard them speaking French as I helped the Asian couple, so when one asked how to get to Termini--the main rail station--I told her, "Descendez la" as I pointed in their direction.  "Passez trois coins, tournez a droite et descendez."  Pass three corners, then turn to your right, and keep going.  

Yet another Asian couple saw me giving directions and, after the young women left, asked whether I spoke English. I nodded, and they asked whether I knew how to get to the Trevi Fountain.  I did, and even assured them that yesterday I made a wrong turn in the very spot where we stood but found my way to the Fountain, which actually was close by.

I guess people figure that cyclists know their way around.  In some places, I do. But just yesterday I was as lost and confused as the people I helped (I hope!) today.

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